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Federal Court Denies Asbestos Company’s Bid to Dismiss Maritime Law Claims

A Virginia federal court recently denied a defendant asbestos company’s bid to dismiss maritime law claims brought by the estate of a deceased plaintiff who claimed the victim developed mesothelioma through years of using carcinogenic asbestos products produced by the defendant. In its decision, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia determined that U.S. admiralty law does in fact apply to the case and the matter may proceed based on the allegations of fact there in.

The plaintiff’s mesothelioma cancer lawsuit alleged that during his service in the United States Navy, the victim worked for years doing shipbuilding and repair using asbestos-laden parts manufactured and sold by John Crane, Inc. The plaintiff’s estate elected to file the asbestos cancer claim under U.S. maritime law because his injuries occurred on navigable waters of the country, and therefore entitled to additional benefits and compensation under such statutes.

Court filings indicate that John Crane, Inc. did not necessarily contest that its products in question contained asbestos, or that they may have necessarily caused the plaintiff’s injuries. Instead, the defendant asserted that the plaintiff’s case should be tried under Virginia state law, as they claimed any injuries the plaintiff suffered occurred while the ships he was working on were docked in ports in the state. John Crane, Inc. further argued that the plaintiff’s mesothelioma diagnosis was due to “asbestos work,” which would make it an inappropriate claim to bring under U.S. maritime law.

In evaluating John Crane, Inc.’s motion to dismiss the claim, the district court first had to determine if the location of the plaintiff’s asbestos exposure was appropriate for a maritime law claim. The court found that the fact that the ships that the victim worked on were docked had no bearing on the claim, since they were still on navigable waters and therefore applicable to maritime law.

Next, the court looked into whether John Crane, Inc.’s argument that the plaintiffs exposure to carcinogens through “asbestos work” was sufficient to dismiss the claim. The court wrote that “While it is true that “asbestos work” in general is not inherently related to the traditional application of admiralty law, the sale of an asbestos-containing product geared toward the proper functioning of Navy ships places the Plaintiffs’ allegations squarely in a context that interests admiralty law.”

With the court’s decision to deny John Crane, Inc.’s motion to dismiss, the plaintiff’s claim takes another important step toward having the case heard in a court of law and bringing justice for the alleged negligence caused by the defendant.

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